New research highlights risk to principals' mental health

Dec 05, 2014

Growing job complexity and a lack of support leads to stress, burnout and mental ill-health in Australia's school leaders.

Australian principals and assistant principals severely lack the support to face the growing pressure of increased workloads, public accountability, aggressive parents and violent students, according to The 2014 Teachers Health Fund Principal Health & Wellbeing Survey Report, released on 4 December. As a result, they are often at risk of stress, burnout and mental ill-health.   

The survey, conducted by the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at Australian Catholic University (ACU), included 2,621 principals and 1,024 assistant principals from primary and secondary schools across urban, suburban, large towns, rural and remote locations from around the country.

Report author, ACU Associate Professor Philip Riley, said the survey clearly showed that these highly dedicated school leaders were committed to running schools as effectively as possible, but the personal cost was increasingly high.

“The high emotional demands these school leaders face, together with a lack of systemic support and training, means we see higher levels of burnout and stress. Worryingly, it is also taking a toll on their greatest support group: their families. Work‐family conflict occurs at approximately double the rate of the general population,” said Associate Professor Riley.

Teachers Health Fund CEO Brad Joyce said the fund has seen the need for mental health services from members almost double over the past five years. “This increase in demand, together with the outcomes of the report, highlight the need to better support our principals and teachers at a personal, community, industry and policy level, to ensure not only their health and wellbeing, but also the future of the children they guide and teach.”

The report outlines four key recommendations:

1. Introduce professional support: Develop policies to address the growing job complexity and demanding emotional aspects of the role.

2. Increase professional learning: Provision of skill development in the emotional aspects of the leadership role.

3. Review work practices: Develop practices to address the disproportionate level of demand to resources available. This is dangerous to the long‐term health and wellbeing of principals.

4. Establish an independent authority to address increasing bullying and violence: Investigate the differences in occupational risk to determine who is at risk, why and what can be done to protect principals and assistant principals.

Download the report



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